Will Your Kids Save A Bumblebee’s Life?

There are some things that are certain in the school world:

  • the first snowfall will cause an excited run to the window to get a closer look,
  • a thunderstorm will lead to an indoor recess,
  • full moons and windy weather cause wild behaviour,
  • and bumblebees result in running, tears, and absolute terror.

Well it turns out that I need to modify my list. For the past couple of years, my teaching partner, Paula, and I have taught groups of students that love bumblebees.

  • They observe them.
  • They take care of them.
  • And one of them even became a class pet.

It was this last point that I really wasn’t expecting. This week was all about bumblebees though. It started during Before Care when the kids were heading outside. Nobody noticed a giant, fuzzy bumblebee that got stuck in the door. Oh no! What could they do? I’ll admit that I was tempted to squish it. I guess that my experiences from childhood provided that voice in my head that said, “Bumblebees are bad. They sting. If you can kill them safely, do so.” I’m not saying that these are good things to think, but painful stings from years ago make it hard to befriend bees. And have you see the giant ones? They’re terrifying! Or, at least, they are to me. But our students would not even entertain the idea of killing the bee. They had to save it. It couldn’t fly, and it didn’t seem to have a stinger. How could it take care of itself?

With the help of a wood chip and the Before Care instructor, they got the bumblebee safely into a container. Now to create a habitat for the bee. What does it need to survive? Children started to collect flowers for the bumblebee, so that it could “suck pollen.” One child found a “beautiful flower,” which forged a new friendship between her and the other children, as they loved her flower and wanted her to show them where they could also get some. She now played an important role in the bee’s survival. The bumblebee connections extended from the outdoor classroom to the forest. One student even came inside to get a little container of water, so that the bee would have something to drink. Another child helped divide the habitat, so that they could have “water and land animals.” I wondered, how many creatures were we going to collect, and could they all fit inside a Tupperware container?

I know that the students who usually spend our outdoor time predominantly running around, climbing, and playing soccer, were now focused on living things and how they could keep them alive. This totally changed their play, and in a wonderful way. It even inspired some sign making in the classroom. One child was so thrilled about the bumblebee that he brought in some insects from home. This led to a lot of reading, writing, and thinking together before the day even started.

I never thought this would happen, but a group of children became so enthralled with the bumblebee that they figured out a way to take it inside. We didn’t want it to escape in the classroom or the school, so we needed to cover the container, but still create some air holes for the bee. Kids worked with Paula to do this. One SK student measured the top of the container with paper, and taped it down securely before letting Paula help him poke holes for air. Children were writing and talking about bees, and so very respectful of the handmade signs not to touch the “bee habitat.”

While I continued to question why we now have a bee as a pet 🙂 , we did keep the bee habitat in the classroom overnight. (I didn’t mention this to our caretaker, who may have liked our worm habitats from months ago much more. 🙂 ) Surprisingly enough though, the bee survived the night inside, and students in Before Care took their parents over to see the bee right away and check on its health. Kids were so in love with this bee, that it should come as no surprise that a child was devastated when the block playroom (in the bee habitat) accidentally broke, and a block landed on the bee’s head. Oh no! Was the bee alive? It looked like it was moving, but not much.

Paula and I were sure that the children would need to bury the bee out in the forest, but instead, one of the child bee keepers suggested that Paula Google to find out how to help save a dying bee. He gave her the search terms to use, and they found out that you could create a mixture of sugar and water. So I went inside with a student, and we got some sugar from the staffroom and some water from the classroom to bring out to the forest. Paula and I were skeptical, but amazingly enough, the mixture seemed to work. The bee was drinking the sugary water. It was quite a wonderful feeling of bee survival and love, as we all sat together and watched the recovering bee on the grassy hill.

Unfortunately, the bee’s health went downhill during the day. The next day, students came in to check on the bumblebee, and it was dead. It was so interesting to hear their reflections. We even thought about returning the bee to the earth, much as we did for the baby birds the week before. Some rainy weather made grave digging harder to do, so maybe we’ll need some closure for the bee next week.

I can’t help but look at this experience through the lens of Self-Reg. I keep on thinking about Stuart Shanker‘s work, and the Pro-Social Domain. There were so many opportunities here for empathy, as children and adults,

  • took care of the bumblebee,
  • reframed their thoughts around bumblebees: from fear to love,
  • tried to save the bumblebee’s life,
  • and then worked through the acceptance of its death.

I’m not necessarily a fan of traditional class pets, particularly ones that require numerous forms and permission to keep. But there’s something to be said for the connections and learning that can happen from some untraditional pets: from worms to bumblebees. How do you help support your students in developing empathy? What’s the value in doing so for kids and for you? Maybe the next time I see a bee, my heart might not beat quite as fast with fear. Will yours?


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